FEEDING GOATS PROPERLY
What do these terms mean to you? Full feed, long fiber, pelleted feed, textured feed, free choice feeding, creep feeding, supplements, limiters. Unfortunately, they mean different things in different parts of the USA. You must understand what these words mean to avoid management mistakes that can make your goats sick or kill them.
FULL FEED is a nutritionally-balanced ration that contains proper levels of protein, energy, minerals, and vitamins. FULL FEED comes in sacks or bulk bags and is manufactured at a feed mill based upon a formula developed by a trained livestock nutritionist for a specific geographic area or purpose such as production goats or show wethers. Cottonseed hulls that have not been ground are high in long fiber but fed alone are not nutritionally balanced and therefore are not a full feed.
PELLETED FEED, which is usually considered a FULL FEED, is produced in a pelleting feed mill and is uniformly sized. For goats, I prefer 3/16th of an inch pellets. TEXTURED FEED (aka horse & mule feed) is molasses based and you can see the individual ingredients (i.e. corn). I believe that pelleted feed is healthier for goats because the potential for mold in textured feed can make Listeriosis and ruminal problems more likely. Goats also tend to pick out what they like in textured feed and leave the rest, resulting in an unbalanced diet.
LONG FIBER is hay and forage/browse. LONG FIBER is not available in adequate amounts in any full feed and should always be available FREE CHOICE to goats. Long fiber (hay and forage/browse) should be offered with all sacked feed. Read "The Importance of Long Fiber" on the Articles page of my website www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
SUPPLEMENTS are produced in blocks or tubs and usually in two forms: Protein only and protein/mineral combinations. They are fed to goats that are primarily on forage, browse, or pasture to SUPPLEMENT nutritional deficiencies in their diet. These items should be available FREE CHOICE, i.e. 24 hours a day, 7 days a week to the goats . FREE CHOICE feeding allows goats to choose when and how much they wish to eat. Items that should always be offered free choice are water, grass hay, loose minerals, and protein blocks or tubs. Never feed sacked or bulk feed rations free choice to goats.
LIMITERS are ingredients used in feed products to reduce consumption to force the goat to eat more forage, browse, pasture, or hay and therefore eat less of the more expensive full feed or supplements. The use of limiters in livestock feed has the same effect as over-salting your own food, i.e. it isn't palatable and therefore you don't eat as much (limits your consumption). Limiters should not be used with goats, because their rapid metabolism requires a higher quality of nutrition than needed by cattle or sheep. Salt and other minerals are used as limiters in many types of feed, so you need to investigate and understand the amounts of all ingredients in products fed to your goats.
The only product that I feed to goats that has the word "sheep" on it is Hi-Pro Feeds' sheep & goat block. It is a 33 pound all natural (no urea, no non-protein nitrogen) 20% protein block that is mostly protein and few minerals so it is very soft and easy to bite off the block. Minerals harden the block, making it difficult to bite. I want my goats to eat it so that those in the herd who are lower in the pecking order get their needed protein that they might not get from the pelleted feed because the more aggressive goats push them away from the trough. No other nutritional product labeled for sheep is appropriate for goats due to the low amount of copper in them.
Offer loose minerals free choice alongside these all-natural, urea-free (aka non-protein nitrogen) blocks or tubs. Using these two different supplements together is better than using one combination protein & mineral product because minerals reduce (limit) consumption. You may have trouble finding these "sheep & goat" blocks or tubs outside of Texas. Go to the HiPro Feeds website (www.hiprofeeds.com) to the Products page and find sheep & goat block's general nutritional content to help you find equivalent products in your area.
IMPORTANT: Unless you have (a) formal training in goat nutrition, or (b) have direct access to a goat nutritionist who will help you formulate a feed for your herd, do not mix your own feed. You can easily get too much of one item that may bind up the utilization of something else. The chemical form of certain items (oxides, sulfates, sulfides) makes a big difference in the goat's ability to utilize them. As a general rule, the cheaper products are less bio-available (easily usable) by the goat's body. Oxides are the cheapest and least bio-available; sulfates are the most expensive but the most easily utilized by the goat.
Don't automatically decide to feed what your neighbor feeds; his circumstances are probably different from your herd's needs and he may not know what he is doing anyhow. Every feed company has a ruminant nutritionist on its staff. Contact the company that makes feed in your area and work with that person to develop a feed formulation for your goats. Feed companies want to sell their products; there may be no charge for this service if you buy their products. Also don't take a full feed product and mix other products into it. You change the nutritional value of the feed and subsequently have no idea what you are actually feeding.
If you don't have goat feed available in your area, contact one of the big feed manufacturers, educate them on the number of goats raised in your area, and invite them to be the first company to provide goat feed in your market.
Don't mix full feeds with supplements. For example, loose minerals should not be mixed into full feed rations. Full feed already has minerals and vitamins formulated at a level designed for proper delivery to the goat. Mineral supplements have much higher concentrations of minerals in them and are designed for the goats to consume small amounts per day on a free choice basis. If you mix loose minerals with full feed, the goat may receive a toxic level of minerals.
CREEP FEEDING is defined in various ways around the USA. In Texas where I live, creep feeding means different things to different people. The problem arises when one person thinks he understands what the other is saying, but really doesn't. To me, creep feeding means free-choicing sacked feeds. Do not ever free choice sacked grain to goats of any age. The potential for entertoxemia (overeating disease), ruminal acidosis, urinary calculi, bloat, laminitis-founder, and a host of other very serious rumen-based and therefore life-threatening illnesses is put into play. See my article entitled Feeding the Rumen - Not the Goat on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
Some people speak of creep feeding as feeding sacked feeds to kids who are still nursing their dams and may or may not involve offering it free choice. This is done to (a) provide additional nutrients above that which the dam's milk offers, (b) reduce lactation requirements of the doe, and (c) ease the kid onto solid food so the transition at weaning from dam's milk to all solid food won't result in rumen problems. If allowed, goats can overeat on sacked feed. Kids raised in managed populations that receive regular graining tend to become feed-bucket animals at best and develop rumen-related illnesses (or die) at worst. If regular grain feeding is a part of your management regimen, offer a measured amount of sacked feed to all goats (including young kids) on a regular schedule, then gather up what is left (if any) after ten minutes and feed less the next day.
The next time you are talking with fellow goat producers about feeding, make sure you understand what they mean by the terms they are using so that no one receives incorrect information that might harm the health of your goats. Ask them what they mean when they say creep feeding ,supplements, etc. so that you are all talking about the same things. The devil is always in the definitions.
See my article entitled Feeding the Rumen - Not the Goat" on the Articles page at www.tennesseemeatgoats.com.
Suzanne W. Gasparotto, Onion Creek Ranch, Texas 4.1.20
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